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Possible Child Marriage Law in Iraq Would Allow Girls To Wed and Restrict Women’s Rights

Early last week, eyebrows were raised when it was reported that a new law proposed in Iraq could, if passed, potentially permit Iraqi girls to become eligible for marriage without a minimum age of consent. Although marriageable age is not explicitly discussed in the draft law, known as the Jaafari Personal Status Law, it sets forth a new set of divorce procedures for girls as young as 9 years old, claiming that it is the age at which they hit puberty. The proposed measure seeks to accommodate the Iraqi Shiite majority population’s religious beliefs, and sparked outrage not just in Iraq among Sunnis and secularists, the Shiite’s political and religious rivals who resent the Shiite way being forced upon them, but also globally amongst activists and women’s rights groups.

Critics of the proposed measure state that it would open a dangerous loophole in the existing law: in Iraq, you must be 18 or older to marry without parental consent (15 with a parent’s blessing). If, however, this measure is passed, many of those opposed to the bill say it would be “a backhanded way to allow marriages of girls that young” (The Huffington Post). Not only does the Jaafari Personal Status Law allow for the possibility of child brides, it would also allow a man to have sex with his wife whenever he pleased, regardless of whether she consented or not, and would allow him to restrict her rights, make it easier for men to take on multiple wives and take custody of the children in case of divorce.

According to Iraqi government statistics reported by The Huffington Post, nearly 25 percent of the marriages taking place in Iraq involve girls younger than the legal age of consent. This alarming trend is especially prevalent in rural areas with high poverty and illiteracy rates. Reuters reports that when taking part in a protest against the legislation in Baghdad, Hanaa Eduar, one of many local human rights advocates announced: “We believe that this is a crime against humanity. It would deprive a girl of her right to live a normal childhood.”

  The proposed legislation was slammed worldwide because, as the United Nations’ representative to Iraq Nickolay Mladenov wrote on his Twitter, “the adoption of the Jaafari Personal Status Bill risks [the’ constitutionally protected rights for women and [other] international commitments”. More specifically, it would legalize marital rape and place underage girls at risk, making them subject to physical and psychological abuse at the hands of their husbands while robbing them of their childhood. 

The Iraqi constitution is currently believed to be one of the most progressive bodies of legislation in the Middle East, particularly because its personal status law protects women’s legal rights regarding marriage, inheritance, and child custody. It is this very same personal status law that is being contested by the Shiite protesters who drafted the new bill, as they claim that it is against sharia religious law. The new bill, they claim, will not only uphold religious law but also allow for a greater protection of women’s rights by preventing child marriage outside of legal jurisdiction. Although the Jaafari Personal Status Bill was approved by the cabinet on February 25th despite strong opposition, many believe that there is still time to fight the passing of the bill as law due to the vocal global outrage and the upcoming national elections on April 30th. 

Gabrielle Thurin is a Sociology major at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras campus. She interned at the professional services firm Ernst & Young during the spring of 2013 and spent the summer of 2013 as an intern at the prestigious law firm Fiddler, González, & Rodríguez, P.S.C., where she currently works part-time as a law clerk in the Foreclosures department. Gabrielle enjoys reading, pop culture references, vintage-inspired dresses, and discovering new things. Also, Netflix.
Nahir Robles was a former member of the Her Campus at UPR chapter from 2013 until 2018. She graduated with a Bachelor's in Integrative Biology. Some of her interests include writing, modeling, and wrestling. She is currently a Her Campus Mentor and works as a Pathology Assistant.
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